By Chrysandra Medley
This has been a summer of record-breaking heat waves, both in the United States and across the world. Last month, several European countries that usually enjoy temperate summer conditions have hit all-time heat records, with temperatures reaching up to 108.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat waves can be incredibly dangerous, especially for vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. All over the world, health officials are urging people to stay home and hydrated to protect their health.
ESSIC Assistant Research Scientist Augustin Vintzileos has developed a new website that acts as an experimental monitoring and forecasting tool for excessive heat and its impacts on human health. The site, updated daily, forecasts and archives extreme heat events across the world.
The site defines heat waves using a metric called “excess heat factor” (EHF). Based on a method first developed by Australian climate scientists John Nairn and Robert Fawcett, EHF takes into account temperature and acclimatization, or an organism’s adaptation to a persisting excessive heat, to measure the significance of a heat wave on human health. In order to account for oppressive heat Vintzileos extended the EHF to include humidity.
To help inform the health side of heat wave research, Vintzileos collaborated with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS). This interdisciplinary perspective helps Vintzileos quantify heat waves using metrics that can be useful to decision makers.
Forecasts can prove difficult to communicate across disciplinary boundaries due to their probabilistic nature, says Vintzileos. Forecast models can have multiple possible outcomes with varying degrees of certainty even under small perturbations of their initial conditions.
“This type of information has to be given in a way that decision-makers from the health sector can understand,” explains Vintzileos.
Vintzileos hopes that his site, born from the interdisciplinary collaboration, will function as a bridge that brings this important forecast data to decision makers.
“The motivation is to develop early warning systems to accelerate the transition from reactive responses to emergency health situations to proactive risk assessment,” he says.
Vintzileos works primarily on understanding the physics and predictability of climate variations and trends. His interests include numerical modelling and new approaches for analyzing big data volumes. He synthesizes new knowledge to develop operational forecasting systems that have societal benefits.
To view Vintzileos’ forecasts and archive, or to learn more about this research, click here: http://excess-heat.org/